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South Bay Update: Chula Vista Politics

Audio

Aired 6/7/10

In Chula Vista, a city councilman has been cleared of campaign finance violations, while the city copes with a confusing ballot initiative to outlaw project labor agreements and its first-ever election of a city attorney.

TOM FUDGE (Host): I’m Tom Fudge, filling in for Maureen Cavanaugh, and you’re listening to These Days on KPBS. We're just one day from primary election day, and some of the most interesting questions before local voters are in Chula Vista. Proposition G would outlaw project labor agreements with city governments. This has pitted labor against those who want to limit the influence of labor on city projects. Mayor Cheryl Cox is up for re-election. And, the office of city attorney is up for election for the very first time. We're going to start by talking about a Chula Vista mayoral candidate who has spent much of his political career getting in and out of trouble. City Councilman Steve Castaneda was just cleared of accusations that he dodged campaign finance laws. This follows another situation in which Castaneda was accused, but cleared, of perjury charges. And joining me to talk about this is Jon Campbell. He’s a staff writer with the Star News of Chula Vista. And, Jon, thanks very much for coming in.

JON CAMPBELL (Staff Writer, Star News): Thanks for having me.

FUDGE: And, listeners, if you want to join the conversation, you may do it by calling 888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Jon, we are going to start by talking with (sic) Steve Castaneda who is accused of 80 violations of campaign finance laws but he’s been cleared of any wrongdoing.

CAMPBELL: Umm-hmm.

FUDGE: First of all, tell us what – tell us more about what he was accused of.

CAMPBELL: Okay, well it was billed as 83 violations, really it was probably more like 10 laws that he was accused of violating. They all related to campaign stuff. He’s accused of getting free rent on an apartment for his campaign office, for example. The way the 82 – 83 charges came up, was for the 14 months of the election cycle that he was accused of receiving the free rent, those were all counted as 14 charges. So the number was a little inflated to begin with. But, yeah, I mean, the – the prosecutor who was appointed to investigate them had a lot of bad things to say about his accuser and really did exonerate him pretty much completely, so…

FUDGE: Okay, and who was his accuser?

CAMPBELL: It was a man named Angel Castillo who is, I guess, a political sort of unknown but Castaneda says that a few years ago they were living in an apartment complex together and had a dispute centered around the condo owners board.

FUDGE: Umm-hmm.

CAMPBELL: So they have a little bit of history. Casta…

FUDGE: I’m sorry, they were living in the same apartment complex, they weren’t roommates.

CAMPBELL: No, no, no, I’m sorry.

FUDGE: Okay.

CAMPBELL: Absolutely. And Castaneda maintains that this is coming from political enemies, specifically Cheryl Cox who’s his opponent in the mayoral race. He doesn’t offer really any proof about that but that’s his contention.

FUDGE: Umm-hmm. What do we know about the motivation of this accuser? Why would he bring these charges?

CAMPBELL: Just what I said, which was that they had a dispute a few years ago.

FUDGE: Ah.

CAMPBELL: Other than that, there’s really only speculation. I’m sorry, go ahead.

FUDGE: And, as you say, he is – I think you said, he is running against Mayor Cheryl Cox…

CAMPBELL: Yes.

FUDGE: …and so he’s running for mayor and he has accused Cox of being behind some of these accusations.

CAMPBELL: Right.

FUDGE: And what has Cheryl Cox said to that?

CAMPBELL: Well, she’s called those accusations insulting and has, you know, categorically denied having anything to do with it. That’s kind of where she stands on that. She says no.

FUDGE: And it wasn’t too long ago, I think just a couple years ago, when Steve Castaneda was also accused of lying to a grand jury.

CAMPBELL: Right.

FUDGE: He was accused of perjury. Can you tell us a little bit more about that case? Did that also involve campaign contributions, that kind of thing?

CAMPBELL: Well, it was an allegation of corruption that he was using his public office to get favorable treatment in a real estate deal. The charges specifically related to those – those allegations never even made it to trial but what did was a perjury charge. He was acquitted on some of the charges and the jury deadlocked on others, and so he emerged unscathed.

FUDGE: Unscathed, and I guess we – before we leave this subject, we need to keep – I guess we do need to keep in mind that even though this guy’s been controversial, he’s been accused of a lot of things, none of the charges have stuck and, I guess, we need to – I guess we need to remember that. Anything else on Steve Castaneda?

CAMPBELL: No, I think we’ve pretty much covered it.

FUDGE: All right. And he’s running in the primary, in the mayoral primary. And in this primary, if the incumbent gets 50%, does she win outright?

CAMPBELL: Yeah, yeah.

FUDGE: That’s the way it works.

CAMPBELL: Umm-hmm.

FUDGE: So we’ll have to wait and see if there’s a runoff in the Chula Vista mayor’s race.

CAMPBELL: Right.

FUDGE: I’m Tom Fudge and you’re listening to These Days. My guest at the moment is Jon Campbell. He’s a staff writer for the Star News, and we’re talking about some of the politics going on in Chula Vista as we’re one day away from the primary election. In other political news, Chula Vista is going to elect a city attorney and this is interesting because prior to this election, the city attorney was always appointed. This is the first election. How did this come about?

CAMPBELL: Well, there was a perception, I think, among some in the community that the city attorney was maybe too close to the council or, you know, was making decisions that favored people on the council. It’s only a small, you know, a portion of the community but that was the group that sort of spearheaded an effort to get the city attorney to be an elected position. So it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, if there will be more independents or if there will just be another politician in Chula Vista.

FUDGE: Well, there will be another politician in Chula Vista.

CAMPBELL: Well, there will be, that’s true. I guess that’s a foregone conclusion but…

FUDGE: It’s another – it’s another – a new elected office but who’s running? Tell us about the candidates.

CAMPBELL: There is men in – Glen Googins, who was formerly with the city. He worked in the city attorney’s office previously a few years ago. And a man named Robert Faigin who is an attorney with the sheriff’s department out in east county.

FUDGE: All right. And where are people lining up when it comes to these two candidates? Is any one of them controversial? I guess one of them is controversial in a sense because he doesn’t even live in Chula Vista.

CAMPBELL: Right, that’s really where the campaign is broken down. Glen Googins is an attorney from Chula Vista. He’s been accused – or he – the biggest campaign issue used to beat him over the head was a settlement that he – a severance package, I should say, that he took when he left the city. And people have said that he, you know, improperly took money from the city. It was a pretty standard severance package but he’s been attacked over that. Robert Faigin is from out of town and in Chula Vista that’s a big sin and that’s been the thrust of Googins’ mailers to attack Faigin as an out-of-town guy.

FUDGE: Well, it’s interesting because I think in a lot of jurisdictions you have to live in the city in order to run for election. I don’t think you can run for city council in the 7th District unless you live in the 7th District. But obviously that rule doesn’t apply to the Chula Vista City Attorney’s race.

CAMPBELL: Right. The way the ballot measure was passed, the city attorney doesn’t have to live in the city. And there’s some question about the backer of that proposition that got a city – elected a city attorney to begin with, is a man named Earl Jentz and he’s been funding Robert Faigin’s campaign and there’s some speculation that, you know, he wanted to get his man in the office, but that’s – and so…

FUDGE: And tell us why this is important, Jon. Is it significant that this is now an elected position? Does it mean that there’s going to be another politician…

CAMPBELL: I mean…

FUDGE: …involved in Chula Vista politics? Another politician with another political agenda?

CAMPBELL: It really remains to be seen, I guess, I mean, that you could have a city attorney that has an adversarial relationship with the council and they could have disagreements and, you know, it could stop the council from taking actions that he believes are illegal, or you could have a city attorney that, when they’re appointed, they tend to be a little bit more friendly with the council, so, I mean, it’s – it remains to be seen.

FUDGE: You’ve had a lot of conversations with people about this move in Chula Vista to start electing the city attorney and there’s a name that always comes up in these conversations. What’s that name?

CAMPBELL: Aguirre in San Diego.

FUDGE: Mike Aguirre who, I think, did develop a reputation, deserved or not, as a person, as a city attorney with a political agenda.

CAMPBELL: Umm-hmm, yeah. I mean, that’s the name, that’s the specter, that’s often mentioned in Chula Vista and I think for some people that might be a positive thing, to have a city attorney who’s going to be pushing back against the council. But, you know, we’ll have to see how it plays out.

FUDGE: Once again, my guest is Jon Campbell. He’s a staff writer for the Star News in Chula Vista. And we’re talking about Chula Vista politics and some of the things that are going to be coming up on the primary election ballot tomorrow in the City of Chula Vista, San Diego’s neighbor to the south. And finally, we’re going to talk about a proposition which has gotten a lot of attention. I think a lot of money – I get the impression from all the fliers that have been sent out, a lot of money has been invested in the battle over Proposition B (sic), which is a measure to outlaw project labor agreements. What is a project labor agreement?

CAMPBELL: A project labor agreement is an agreement between the city and its contractors that states essentially that they’ll only hire union workers or I should say that only contractors who will pay into a union benefits plan or a trust fund. It’s a little confusing. And, you know, organized labor likes those kinds of deals. That gives their workers better access to the job. Non-union contractors dislike them. And that’s really what’s at stake. Chula Vista has never had a projects labor agreement before so this is all, in a sense, a theoretical argument but that’s the basis of it.

FUDGE: I think the best known project labor agreement in San Diego – in the San Diego area’s the one that was passed by the San Diego School Board, and that became quite controversial. Who wanted this on the ballot? Was this put on the ballot by Labor?

CAMPBELL: Contractors. Contractors really pushed hard for this and they had…

FUDGE: Oh. Oh, of course. I’m sorry. I got confused. Labor doesn’t like it.

CAMPBELL: No, no, no. Yeah…

FUDGE: The contractors…

CAMPBELL: …Labor did not want to see this on the ballot.

FUDGE: Right.

CAMPBELL: The Associated Builders and Contractors, which is a trade group which has provided a lot of the funding, has been pushing to get this on the ballot for a couple years now and they finally succeeded.

FUDGE: All right. And, well, anything more to say about Proposition G?

CAMPBELL: It’s a big money race, like you said. I mean, it’s about $700,000 so far spent on both sides. That’s a huge sum in Chula Vista politics, and it’s become sort of a regional debate as well. I think the issue is larger than just Chula Vista. You have outside groups from all over the country that are spending money on this and it could set a precedent.

FUDGE: And this would not make it a rule that all city contracts had to be project labor agreements, it would be – The city council would vote on each one, right?

CAMPBELL: Well, this would eliminate their ability to sign project labor agreements and so…

FUDGE: It would eliminate their ability to do this. Now, Labor would be the big loser?

CAMPBELL: Labor…

FUDGE: Big losers? Big winners in this situation?

CAMPBELL: Yeah, I mean, and Labor has run ads that says that if this passes, union shops will be prohibited from sitting on – from bidding on city contracts, and that’s not true. I mean, unions will still be able to bid on city contracts if Prop G passes. They just wouldn’t be able to be required to be – to pay into a union trust fund.

FUDGE: And did – And if Prop G passes, do you think this could set a precedent for the San Diego region? Might there be other Prop Gs out there that prevent cities from going into project labor agreements?

CAMPBELL: Well, there’s Prop K in Oceanside right now that’s very similar and, yeah, I mean, some people are saying that this could set a precedent and that it’s going to be the first step in a larger process to get rid of PLAs entirely.

FUDGE: Which would not be what – So this is a big deal for the local union representatives, I assume.

CAMPBELL: Absolutely. And they’re spending – they show in their spending.

FUDGE: They showed in their spending. Well, Jon, thank you very much for joining us.

CAMPBELL: I appreciate it.

FUDGE: Jon Campbell is a staff writer for the Chula Vista Star News, and he joined us to talk about some Chula Vista politics as we’re approaching the November – well, no, it’s not the November election. I guess it’s the June primary election.

CAMPBELL: Right.

FUDGE: I got to get my months straight. So I’m Tom Fudge. You’re listening to These Days. Stay tuned. We’re going to take a break but when we return, we’re going to talk about a book called “The Merchants of Doubt,” which is about the people – some of the people accused of casting doubt on the conclusions of climate research that have concluded that global warming is being caused by human activity. So stay with us and if you want to give us a call, the number is 888-895-KPBS.

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